What is Catholic education?
James Hatch

What are the cornerstones of Catholic education?

Like other institutions, the Roman Catholic Church has not always been a positive force in education. Indeed it often reflected the larger social norms of the day and, being human-made, was wrong in some undertakings. Likewise, education is a social construct with the standards and aspirations of the day shaping policy and what is deemed valuable. However, the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) declared expectations and guidelines for what a Catholic school is, in its document Gravissimum Educationis (October 1965). 

Gravissimum inspired others from within the Church's global membership to also articulate what Catholic education should encompass. 

Below I have summarised five significant expectations and provided the name, in brackets, of the specific document in which this expectation is articulated. 

1. The school is there to serve the spiritual and educational needs of its community (Gravissimum).

2. Evangelisation is the Church's mission. This means that Catholic schools must proclaim the good news of salvation to all (e.g. offer mass and religious education). Moreover, if someone seeks Church membership, they should do so freely and not from coercion (The Catholic School).

3. Parents (and/or Guardians) are the primary teachers of their children (The Catholic School).

4. Respect for all human life, emphasising each child's total needs (all documents).

5. Those who work at Catholic schools are expected to show respect for all life and differences and act as living examples of a moral and ethical life (Gravissimum).

Of particular note here is that the school must be an organic part of the community and serve that community. Thus, while an aspect of Catholic education is evangelisation is not its sole purpose. 

Notably, the school must offer both a quality education AND access/opportunities for faith and spiritual development. A Catholic school should aim to provide excellence in both these fields. For example, a person who joins a Catholic school but is of another faith should witness their faith deepen through their engagement with and working at a Catholic school.

Specifically, Catholic education recognises the inherent sanctity of life and the equity between all people regardless of their various identities. We are all children of God and as such deserving of respect, recognition, support and love. Extending from this responsibility is our call to ethical stewardship of the globe and its many resources.

Lastly, as the Church recognises parents as their child's primary educators, the Catholic school is positioned as a supporting partner.

Catholic schools and their communities must continue to grow and remain relevant. Afterall, schools are concisely emergent and evolving, for to do otherwise they risk stagnation. 

At the heart of Catholic education is the dynamic tension and inspiration between the individual and the community.

Selected References:

Grace, Gerald. (, 2016). Faith, Mission and Challenge in Catholic Education.

Gravissimum Educationis. 

1983 Code of Canon Law in its section on schools;

Catholic Education: The Catholic School (1977); 

Lay Catholics in Schools: Witnesses to Faith (1982); 

The Religious Dimension of Education in a Catholic School (1988); 

The Catholic School on the Threshold of the Third Millennium (1997); and 

Consecrated Persons and Their Mission in Schools: Reflections and Guidelines (2002). 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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